Most of us run marathons and half marathons in our own city, our own state, or places not too far from where we live. Some of our particularly intrepid readers here at HalfMarathons.Net, however, make a true adventure out of running their races.
That’s certainly the case with Mark Wegren, a reader who traveled all the way to China in May 2011 to run the Great Wall Half Marathon, which is one of those races that probably would be on many of our bucket lists. Mark was kind enough to take the time to share his story and photos of the trip with us here at the blog, and here’s his story:
My running career has always been defined by taking that next challenge. The first challenge was to run my first half marathon. Next was simply to beat my time. Then I started my 50 state challenge. Then, while surfing one my running sites, I came upon the Great Wall Marathon. That sounded really cool but only a pipe dream. This past week, it became a reality.
When I announced to my friends & family last year that I was going to make this journey, most were supportive but thought I was crazy. Really, a half marathon on the Great Wall? It was crazy. Good thing I’m insane. After a year of planning & setting up everything logistical, it was time to leave.
Two close friends surprised me with a custom running shirt with the Chicago flag on the front & my nickname ‘Wiggy’ on the back. Considering I had never the left the US, I was extremely nervous & excited.
After a 13-hour flight from Chicago to Beijing, I met up with the travel agency at the airport. My roommate arrived along with a few other Great Wall runners. Along with my roommate, was a married couple from Madison, WI. We traded running histories, goals, origins, etc. Our race packets were waiting for us at the hotel, where we found out we’d all be in the same tour group.
The next day was spent doing traditional tourist stuff in Beijing. Then, came inspection day. We got to walk the part of the course actually on the Wall. Good call on this. The stairs were uneven & had some very steep inclines. At this point, I got to take a lot of pictures & really bond with some of the people in my group. Inspection day became even more important in regards to the race day meal.
We were given a sandwich consisting of one piece of meat, two slices of bread and a hard-boiled egg. Not exactly the meal needed for such a long race. Fortunately for myself, I brought a 6 pack of Cliff bars. Everyone was scrambling that evening to find food for race day.
The tour group I was with was a well experienced running group. This was one person’s 3rd Great Wall Marathon. There were countless dual & tri-athletes. The couple from WI were attempting to complete the 7 continent challenge (I believe this was their 5th). My roommate had completed the 2500th anniversary race from Marathon to Athens. One in the group ended up finishing first in her age/gender division. Another, finished 6th overall in the women’s division of the full marathon. I’m proud of my 9 half marathons but still felt like a novice compared.
After a 3 hour bus ride on race day morning, things got started. The half took me up a steep, winding road to start with. Having the Flying Pig Half a few weeks before, I was ready. The road took us to the actual Wall. The portion on the Wall consisted of about 2-3 miles, where things slowed down due to bottle-necking & people stopping to take pictures. The stairs were tough but manageable. By the time I was off the Wall, I had completed about 5 miles. I was feeling good but thinking ‘I still have 8 miles left.’
After taking a flat road, next was a small town located near the Wall. The town was arguably as tough as the Wall. There were steep, rocky inclines. At this point I kind of wished I had trail running shoes. The townsfolk were very friendly & would take pictures along with cheering us on. Finally, came the finish line. At around mile 12.9, I pulled out a small American flag & waved it when I crossed. My personal best for a half marathon was 2:20. My target for this race was 3 hours. I finished in 3:13. I was very pleased with that.
Things concluded Sunday night with a big gala dinner, or as I was calling it, the Great Wall Prom. I caught up with my friends from inside & outside the tour group. At the gala, the numbers of representatives was announced. I’m proud to report that the United States was the #1 represented country. As much fun as this was, I knew things were coming to an end. I met some truly amazing runners. This race took special meaning. When traveling within the US to race, I feel like I’m running for my hometown of Chicago. For once, I got to represent my country.